A nine-tailed fox spirit, a detail copied from Hokusai’s Great Picture Book of Everything and painted in colour (within my limitations)*. These Kitsune or fox spirits feature in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean mythology under different names. The more tails they have, the wiser and more powerful they get. They are able to turn themselves into foxy young human ladies in order to devour unsuspecting young men, but they may also be beneficent and bring good fortune.

In Hokusai’s original, this one is being conjured up by Fumei Chōja, aka the virtuous Indian King Sutasoma.

*In fact it appears that when they get nine tails they turn white: but I’m not repainting!

August 2022 competitions

A selection of writing competitions with deadlines in August that I might enter.

  • First, I got the deadline for the Reader Berlin contest wrong last time (unless they changed it surreptitiously…) it doesn’t close until 15 August.
  • Gival want longer stories of 5,000 to 15,000 words: entry is $25 and first prize $1,000: deadline 8 August
  • If you write SF, the NextGen Science competition offers a $200 prize, entry fee $20. Maximum length is 15 pages (I assume you’re not allowed to write in unspaced 8-point font on A3) and the competition closes on 15 August
  • The Masters Review (which always sounds a bit sinister to me) offers $3,000 for a story up to 6,000 words: entry is $20, deadline 28 August
  • Those nice people at Exisle Academy are offering a prize of training and resources valued at $2,000. The competition is free to enter and they want pieces up to 1,500 words on ‘the story I needed to have read’. Get your entry in by 28 August.
  • Etched Onyx are back, looking for stories up to 5,000 words with a prize of $500. The entry fee is $7.50 if you’re early, or $12.50 later, and the deadline is 28 August

All the rest have a deadline of 31 August

  • Aesthetica offers a prize of £2,500, for an entry fee of £12. The maximum word count is 3,000.
  • NAWG wants stories up to 2,000 words: entry is £5 and first prize is £200
  • The Willesden Herald, that august but largely imaginary newspaper, offers £300 for up to 7,000 words: entry is £5.
  • Anthology are looking for a brief 1,500 words at most, and offer a €500 prize. The theme is ‘courage’. Entry is €15
  • Hysteria have the theme ‘peace’. The top prize is £300 and entry £3: the maximum word count is a mere 1,000

Good luck if you enter any of these – if you get anywhere with them, do let me know.

Stonehenge in Bloomsbury

I caught the British Museum’s ‘World of Stonehenge’ before it closes. There are always new theories about Stonehenge, but this is something different: an attempt to explore the context. Of course there isn’t exactly a wealth of contemporary artefacts, so that does involve drawing in some stuff from rather remote locations and times. The relevance of Seahenge, a wooden circle which they have been able to bring into the museum, is obvious: some of the other things are really from different cultures. There are some extraordinary artefacts, though. The stone in the picture here (from Switzerland) is a sculpture of a human figure (!) You can see a very rough face at the top with a nose. The diagonal bit is a bow and arrows and the horizontal lines are arms and a belt. Other items – the high gold hats, the carefully carved chalk drums – are almost completely inscrutable. There’s a curator’s tour on video here if you’re interested.


To the Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain with Howard, my old friend from University. Reviews had led me to expect mainly brutalised nudes and dead-eyed men watching music hall singers (some people even think Sickert might have been Jack the Ripper) , but it’s much more varied and interesting. Sickert’s unusual framings and his interest in entertainers and people off the street show the influence of impressionism and Dégas, as the nearly-black early paintings show his admiration for Whistler. But he moved things on towards modernism, and brightened up considerably later.


I must admit to knowing shamefully little about Raphael before going to the current exhibition at the National Gallery. He was obviously important enough to have a whole artistic movement, the Pre-Raphaelites, devoted to undoing his influence, and he is generally considered one of the top three artists of the High Renaissance, alongside Leonardo and Michaelangelo (who hated him), but somehow he never made an impression on me. The only picture I could really name was the School of Athens, appearing here as a wall-sized reproduction. The exhibition has a lot of Madonnas (with babies who look like babies for once): perhaps a theme of special resonance to the orphan Raphael? Son of the court painter of Urbino, he had all of that city’s famous courtly charm, never falling out with his rich patrons or failing to befriend people. He ran one of the largest artist’s studios ever, and died young: according to Vasari, from too much sex. Perhaps charm was his weakness, and perhaps that’s why Michaelangelo took against him: beautiful, brilliant paintings – but just too damned polite?

Small but Good

I think it’s a burrowing owl, not burrowing.

We went to the ’Small is Beautiful’ exhibition. To be honest I was slightly worried it might be a bit of a rip-off, but in fact it’s quite extensive, varied and entertaining. The artists involved have a wide range of approaches, and the sizes go from nicely modelled butterflies which are almost life size (and some excellent cardboard fish that are probably larger than real ones – though they seem to be carrying little cities on their backs) down to carved pencil leads and sculptures within the eye of a needle (microscope provided). We rather liked the little owl pictured.

Is this really art, or just entertaining craft? Some pieces are really just jokes, others aspire to being slightly deeper. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with being amused.

July 2022 Competitions

Here’s another look at writing competitions I might enter during the coming month.  I’m afraid the first three are right at the beginning of the month, so if you haven’t been working on them already (or have something in stock) you might need to move quickly. It’s usually OK to enter the same story for more than one competition (so long as you withdraw other entries if you win one) but check the details.

  • The Royal Society of Literature’s V.S.Pritchett prize is for stories of 2-4,000 words: the entry fee is £7.50 and the top prize is £1,000. The deadline is 1 July.
  • Cranked Anvil have an interesting prompt competition for a story between 750 and 1,000 words. The story must take place within a 24 hour time frame, weather must play a role, and it must include the words STOOL, CONSULT, and LANGUID. The fee is £5 and the prize £150. The deadline is 1 July, but if you’re too languid to take to your stool for that one, there’s also their regular short story contest, for which any story up to 1,500 words is OK. Fee and prize are the same, but you’ve got until 31 July.
  • The CAS competition seems to be very much the personal enterprise of Catherine Assheton-Stones, and good for her. The maximum word count is 4,000, the fee is £7, and the prize is £800. The deadline is 1 July, but the competition closes earlier if Catherine gets 230 entries, presumably the most she can read.
  • The Faversham Literary Festival Competition gives you a bit more time, with a deadline of 10 July. Maximum 1,500 words, fee of £8 and prize of £350. It’s judged by Nicholas Royle, who besides writing his own novels and stories, judges the big Manchester competition and edits the prestigious annual Best British Short Stories and more. Clearly a good person to impress.
  • The H.G.Wells prize is for stories between 1,500 and 5,000 words on the theme ‘switch’ with a fee of £10 and top prize of £500; the deadline is 11 July.
  • Literary Taxidermy is back, with its unique competition. Your story must use the first and last lines of a nominated work (a slightly bigger selection is offered this year). The word limit is 2,000, the top prize is $500 and the fee is $10: this year, you can opt to have part of the fee donated to a charity supporting Ukraine. The deadline is 11 July.
  • The Doris Gooderson prize, run by Wrekin Writers, is for stories up to 1,200 words in length. The entry fee is £5, the prize £200, and the deadline is 12 July.

All the others have a deadline of 31 July.

  • The  Reader Berlin offers a three-week residency (guess where) as its first prize. Entry is  €10 and you need up to 3,000 words on the theme ‘escape’.
  • Novel London competition asks for your first 3,000 words plus a synopsis. It costs £11 to enter and the top prize is £500.
  • The Seán O’Faoláin prize, part of Munster’s lively Literature Centre, is for stories up to 3,000 words, with an entry fee of €19 and prize of €3,000 plus a week at Anam Cara retreat.
  • Hastings Book Festival is looking for 2,500 words: entry £u.50, prize £250.
  • HISSAC (Highlands and Islands, but you don’t have to be Scottish) wants stories up to 2,000 words; the entry fee is £5 and the prize £200.

Good luck if you enter any of these: if you are longlisted or win, please let me know.

Poetry shock

My poem ’Under and After All’ was longlisted for the Fish poetry prize! This is gratifying and surprising, because I hardly ever write poems. In this case I had a short story that was clearly a bit too strange and avant garde – so I thought, I’ll pare it down, chop up the lines, and call it a poem. If I were to write a poem, it would normally rhyme and stuff. There’s now a terrible temptation to get my old, failed stories out and make them into weird blank verse.

It’s here if you’re interested.